How to encourage engaging with other children - 3yo

(10 Posts)
nordicwannabe Mon 14-Mar-16 15:55:16

DD started pre-school in January (just before she turned 3), and she is really struggling to play with other children. Her teacher brought it up: that she prefers to tag along with an adult rather than play with other children, and that although she sometimes stands and watches other children she doesn't join in with play. If the helpers take her over and get her started playing with a child, she will play for a bit but then get left behind when the other children move onto something different.

Since then, we've noticed the same thing. Eg. at the weekend a little boy tried to engage her at the park with an astronauts make-believe game. She loves astronauts and make-believe, but she wouldn't play with him, and in fact regressed to babyish behaviour: throwing leaves, and talking in baby-talk and made-up words. Then she started saying she was being a pirate digging for treasure (ie a different game). Only later, when he wasn't anywhere near her, did she start referring to tree stumps as rockets (as he was).

But I know she really, really wanted to play with him. At the end of the day, when I asked her what she had liked best in the day she said 'the boy' - even though we'd done a lot of fun stuff that day (and had hot chocolate! ) and from my perspective, she hadn't even played with him.

It seems like she really wants to play with other children, but doesn't know how. Any time I talk to her about other children or playing, she listens really intently.

Heart-breakingly, today after preschool she was telling me about another child, and when I asked if she had played with her today she said 'I don't like playing with other children, I like playing by myself'. So I think it's starting to affect her self-image.

And she definitely doesn't prefer playing alone. She has some good friends she has known all her life (our NCT group) who she absolutely loves playing with. We see them often, and although they aren't at the stage of playing make-believe together, they will chase each other about and have a wonderful time. She is always asking to see them.

She hasn't really settled at pre-school and still cries most mornings and says she doesn't want to go (she goes 3 consecutive mornings a week). It's a really nice, nurturing place though and she really likes her key person, so I don't think it's a problem with the setting itself.

I don't know how to help her (I'm not that clued up socially myself). What do I do?

Are there any books I can read to her showing how to engage in play? (Reading books about things has really worked with her for other things, like potty training).

I'm not worried about ASD since she engages very well with adults (showing things, sharing, playing make-believe, chatting about all sorts of things). She's also very empathic and loving. I think she just needs some help developing those skills.

nordicwannabe Mon 14-Mar-16 16:02:24

In order not to drip-feed, I should also say that she was a bit of an anxious baby - found new situations difficult and very prone to separation anxiety. She's much less anxious now, and happy to go into a gymnastics class by herself for example. But she's never been that child who will go into a new situation without a backwards glance.

She's also sensitive to noise and crowding, so she's probably finding being at preschool quite challenging. But it's a reasonably calm setting and I haven't had the impression that she has felt overwhelmed there (it's quite obvious when she is - in other places she says when it's too noisy and asks to leave)

WhatEverZen Mon 14-Mar-16 17:13:40

No real advice to give other than to say that their personality is their personality ... and how they are now isn't necessarily how they will always be.

Encourage but don't compel ... And don't worry too much - she's only very young still. Give her the space and freedom to do things at her own pace. It's a good sign that she's happily going to her gym class

My eldest ds was very much like this at this age and for many years until he was a teenager. He is now a confident engaged young man of 17 with a wide circle of friends who'll happily talk to anyone

Misty9 Mon 14-Mar-16 18:56:38

She sounds very much like ds at that age and we were also worried. But I'm happy to report that he's 4.5 now and seems to have taken a leap forward in social and emotional development, and is now playing with others and doing much less of the loner thing. He's still a sensitive little thing like his mummy... and needs time to warm to new situations, but thankfully it looks likely he was just delayed.

Thank goodness for September birthday as there's no way he'd have coped with school from last year.

Was your dd delayed with other milestones? Ds was late to walk and talk. Try not to worry and let her figure it out in her own time smile

susan198130 Mon 14-Mar-16 19:39:04

I don't really have any advice but I am going through something very similar. The manager at my son's nursery said that he just doesn't interact at all with other children so they are referring him for speech therapy (his speech is fine most of the time but they said it doesn't just deal with speech, it can help with social interaction). I have lots of friends with children of a similar age to my son but they are mainly girls and my son isn't keen on girly girls, but he will play with the more tomboyish ones. Whenever we go to softplay, 9 times out of 10 he will end up playing with other children.

I think that he's probably just shy so perhaps it's the same for your little girl?

Have you thought about changing her nursery? The only reason I say that is that I have a friend whose little girl is so sociable, she loves playing with other children but when she first started nursery, she just sat there and cried. Hated it. My friend decided to move her to see if it was just that nursery or if it was just being away from her mum. She moved nursery and now loves it.

nordicwannabe Mon 14-Mar-16 20:07:30

Thank you both for the reassurance. And I'm glad that your sons have both managed to move past it.

Hopefully DD will too. I worry because they are such important skills to have in order to be happy in life, and other children seem to do it so naturally!

She wasn't really delayed with other milestones, Misty - a bit mixed maybe. Physically, she's always been ahead of the curve - early to crawl and walk. She was slow to talk, but hit her language explosion just as I was starting to worry, and now has good speech. Emotionally, she's a mix of quite mature in some ways (will scoot nicely beside me, shares easily, quite flexible about plans changing/having to wait for things) and quite imature in others (won't play alone or even go into the hall to get her shoes alone confused, quite often wants to be babied eg helped with food, carried - as a way of getting reassurance of our care I think).

I just want to help her to figure it out, since I know she will be so much happier when she does!

nordicwannabe Mon 14-Mar-16 20:18:13

That's interesting about the speech therapy, Susan. I do think she needs some examples of how to behave and then practice. Makes sense that speech therapy would be structured to give some help with that too. I feel a bit lost about what to teach her. Maybe you could post back if they do anything particularly helpful?

I have considered moving her to a different nursery, but my gut feel is that the problem would follow her. I'm wary to change things around when being new is probably part of the problem - and this is a particularly cosy setting with a high staff ratio. It's a nagging worry though.

Lovelydiscusfish Tue 15-Mar-16 06:47:25

Just on a practical note, could you invite any children from the nursery who she mentions liking over for a play date? It might be easier for her to build relationships one on one - a busy nursery can be overwhelming for a quiet child.

As she plays so nicely with the NCT friends, there is clearly not a problem with her social skills per se - it's just cracking into the nursery groups. (I wouldn't worry about the boy in the park situation - I think many 3 year olds would struggle to play with a stranger unless they are quite extrovert). One of dd's friend's mums was telling me recently that her just 4 year old struggles socially at the preschool they both attend, as there are a large group of fairly boisterous children, and he is quite quiet, prefers doing craft etc. Could it be something like this? Do you know what the group of children at her nursery are like generally?

nordicwannabe Tue 15-Mar-16 20:09:00

That's a good idea to try some playdates. I think I forget that 3 year olds need to build friendships just as adults do. I assume she should be able to just play with any child blush

I'm not sure who I could invite though. Her teacher suggested I could talk to her about the children at preschool, but when I asked for names she wasn't able to suggest one.

DD does seem to prefer doing quiet things. I think she spends a lot of the day at preschool doing drawing and painting, based on the quantity that comes home!

The children don't seem particularly boisterous to me, but DD is very sensitive to noise and crowding. When the children are all sitting close together for a story, she will tend to keep more physically apart. I think that's just her character though - she doesn't like being crowded even with her NCT friends.

Lovelydiscusfish Tue 15-Mar-16 20:48:29

In terms of play dates, do you think one of the nursery teachers might be willing to suggest a child of a similar age and disposition you could invite? We did this recently, as although dd has a couple of friends from preschool that come over sometimes (she's nearly four, and has been friends with them for a couple of years, so since they were all tiny - and they are lovely kids), we'd noticed that they were a bit different from her, in the sense that they are much more boisterous in their play. They all have a fun time, but we wondered whether dd, who is reasonably quiet, might also enjoy playing with a quieter child.

Her nursery worker suggested a lovely child, quite similar in interests to dd, who has been over once (they had a great time) and will be coming again soon. The parents seemed very happy to get the invitation (as I would be) - I wouldn't hesitate to invite someone, if I were you - I think most people with little children love the opportunity for their kids to socialise and have fun in new environments.

Re the noise thing, dd is a bit sensitive to this too, and sometimes complains that preschool is too noisy. Not sure what the answer is - but I'd say it could certainly be putting her off socialising a bit. Anything that can help guide her towards the similarly minded children (I'm sure there'll be some!) would be great.

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